The Green Light: How legalising and regulating cannabis will reduce crime, protect children and improve safety

A new paper by Daniel Pryor, a Research Economist and the Head of Programmes at the ASI, and Liz McCulloch, Director of Policy at the drug reform advocacy group Volteface, makes the case for legalising cannabis:

  • Britain is falling behind the rest of the world on recreational cannabis legalisation. Canada, ten US states and Uruguay have already legalised the drug for recreational use. Other US states and countries are close to legalisation.

  • Legalisation is supported by MPs and Police & Crime Commissioners from across parties, and a majority of the UK public. 

  • The UK’s current approach to cannabis is generating misery, fuelling gang violence and increasing knife crime. It is now easier for children to get cannabis than alcohol, and most often dangerous skunk that dominates the illegal market. One-third of Brits have used the drug at some point in their life. Drug law enforcement depends on where you live and your ethnicity, undermining the rule of law.

  • The evidence for legalisation is overwhelming. It would protect children, eliminate the criminal—and often violent—market, encourage safer cannabis consumption, and educate people about the effects of cannabis, leading to more informed choices. By contrast, decriminalisation would fail to tackle many of the harms associated with the prohibition of cannabis.

The ASI has developed a Six Point Plan for Cannabis Legalisation: 

  1. Private enterprise: The free market should be responsible for cannabis production and retail to ensure providers are responsive to consumer-wants and to avoid shortages driving a persistent black market. Recreational cannabis could be sold in dedicated licensed stores, behind the counter by trained staff in pharmacies like Boots and mobile apps to compete with drug dealers.

  2. Advertising and branding: Some forms of advertising and branded packaging should be allowed—as in many US states—in order to signal quality, consistency, and safety, giving legal products another advantage over the black market.

  3. Consumption: Edibles and vaping cannabis products should also be allowed to help people move away from tobacco joints.

  4. Taxation: The taxation of cannabis must be low enough to ensure the final product is as cheap as illicit cannabis, or risk continuation of the black market like in California. High potency cannabis (skunk) should be taxed more than lower potency varieties, encouraging consumers to switch to safer products. 

  5. Education: Users should be presented with the latest evidence on the health effects of cannabis at point-of-sale - like in Canada.

  6. Criminal justice: Those currently or previously involved in the illegal cannabis industry should have pathways to transfer in to the regulated, legal market. The Government should also expunge previous cannabis convictions, where appropriate, in order to limit the damage that criminal records cause to the life chances of low-risk offenders.